BLACK HISTORY: Margaret Garner – The woman who inspired BELOVED

Posted on Feb 6 2013 - 3:38am by Funky Dineva


Being that it is Black History month I found it prudent that in the midst of the shade, foolery, and other entertainment foolishness that I carved out a little time to educate my captive audience. I’ve decided to team up with @Anti_Intellect of the Anti Intellect Blog to bring to you guys a few nuggets of Black History. ~ Funky Dineva

Fans of Toni Morrison will remember her 1987 novel Beloved. The novel was also turned into a movie in 1998 starring Oprah Winfrey and Danny Glover. While many know the book and the movie, few people know of the actual woman who inspired the book.

When it comes to Blacks who lived during the 19th century, we often only hear about Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman. While I think these two figures are immensely important to our collective Black memory, I also think that Margaret Garner, the woman whose life inspired Toni Morrison to write Beloved, is immensely important to our memory.

Margaret Garner became the face of the abolitionist movement when, in 1856, she killed her two year old daughter rather than allow her to return to a life of slavery. She, her husband, and her kids had escaped the brutal life of her slave owner. A life where she was repeatedly raped and beat. They were eventually caught, however. And it was then that she made the fateful decision.

In 1856, an article, titled “A Visit to the Slave Mother Who Killed Her Child, appeared in a publication called The American Baptist:

“She said that when the officers and slave-holders came to the house in which they were concealed, she caught a shovel and struck two of her children on the head, and then took a knife and cut the throat of the third, and tried to kill the other–that with regard to herself, she cared very little; but she was unwilling to have her children suffer as she had done.

I inquired if she was not excited almost to to madness when she committed the act. No, she replied. I was as cool as I am now; and would much rather kill them at once, and thus end their sufferings, than have them taken back to slavery, and be murdered by piecemeal.”

Margaret Garner was not charged with murder for killing her child. Instead, she was charged with stolen property. Had she been charged with murder–which would have recognized her humanity–The Fugitive Slave Act may have been overturned, but that was not the case. The law of the land designed enslaved Blacks as property, not people. Under slavery, Black women and men were merely seen as objects, not even entitled to their own children.

Margaret Garner is a painful and poignant reminder of how perverse the institution of slavery really was. It is truly powerful when murder is the most loving act a mother can undertake. It is common for those of us living today to imagine that we know exactly what we would have done had we lived during slavery, but do we really know? Unless you have been thrust into a situation where revolutionary death is literally more liberating than enslaved life, you honestly don’t know how you would respond.

I choose to remember Margaret Garner as a courageous Black woman who made a painful decision during an extremely painful period in Black history.

To learn more about the life of Margaret Garner, please read Modern Medea: A Family Story of Slavery and Child Murder from the Old South.

About the Author

49 Comments so far. Feel free to join this conversation.

  1. PrimaDiva February 14, 2017 at 3:55 pm - Reply

    The same blood runs through the ancestors of the caucasians who did those horrible things to us and thought all those horrible things about us. They can NEVER EVER be trusted no matter what. #stillthesame

  2. Denise Belt February 11, 2015 at 11:40 am - Reply

    Great read

  3. Betty Ross February 11, 2015 at 3:03 am - Reply

    Denise Belt

  4. Simone Bivings February 10, 2015 at 4:54 am - Reply

    Good info!

  5. Barbara Nelson February 10, 2015 at 4:11 am - Reply

    Thank you.

  6. April Martin February 10, 2015 at 1:42 am - Reply

    She was mentioned in the the PBS documentary African Americans Many Rivers to Cross.

  7. Watchemlookfa Mee February 10, 2015 at 12:58 am - Reply

    Thanks Funky Dineva!

  8. Tanisha Platt February 10, 2015 at 12:47 am - Reply

    The movie and book were great but I never knew it based on a true story. Thanks for sharing.

  9. Shawna Barnes February 9, 2015 at 9:16 pm - Reply

    Tiffany Elle Moore

  10. El Pea Hogan February 9, 2015 at 8:22 pm - Reply

    This movie was epic

  11. Adrienne Andersen February 9, 2015 at 8:18 pm - Reply

    This breaks my heart!

  12. Jonathan Belmares February 9, 2015 at 8:02 pm - Reply

    Thanks for the history lesson Dineva.

  13. Denise Nisey Berryman February 9, 2015 at 6:26 pm - Reply

    Never Really understood the movie. Thanks for this! Maybe I´ll check the movie out again.

  14. Linda Espy February 9, 2015 at 5:57 pm - Reply

    Luv the book but the movie….meh!!

  15. Neil Denson February 9, 2015 at 5:49 pm - Reply

    Good read but i only make it halfway through the movie

  16. Chi Totty February 9, 2015 at 5:39 pm - Reply

    Beloved movie still creeps me out.

  17. Michelle Buddy February 9, 2015 at 5:39 pm - Reply

    THANK love it…

  18. Rachelle BlessedLife McMillan February 9, 2015 at 5:36 pm - Reply

    That´s deep Funky Dineva, thank you for teaching the chilrens 🙂

  19. Joi King February 9, 2015 at 5:35 pm - Reply

    I learned this story years ago. This was actually not that uncommon with Slaves and Native Americans. Especially with children who were the product of rape.

  20. ShondaAj Sweat February 9, 2015 at 5:30 pm - Reply

    Oh wow! I didn´t realize there was truth behind this.

  21. Dorrie Core February 14, 2014 at 1:37 am - Reply


  22. Cheryle Clarke February 14, 2014 at 12:42 am - Reply

    I knew about her. Thanks for the post.

  23. Kosmos Witha K February 13, 2014 at 11:59 pm - Reply

    @funky thank you boo this was a beautiful piece. Don´t go getting all deep on me now lol. But forreal awesome and insightful post.

  24. Alicia Margaret February 13, 2014 at 9:47 pm - Reply

    I see this post doesn´t have anywhere near the amount of likes and comments of your other posts, but I thank you for sharing. These things shouldn´t ever be forgotten.

  25. Terrance Pogue February 13, 2014 at 5:01 pm - Reply

    They also made it an opera

  26. Lisa Britt Chaplin February 13, 2014 at 4:55 pm - Reply

    Thanks for sharing. It´s important we know our history.

  27. Megan Toxey February 13, 2014 at 4:25 pm - Reply

    This is a great read

  28. April Fowlkes Brown February 13, 2014 at 4:18 pm - Reply

    Wow. Thanks for the enlightenment!

  29. Tanya Mintyfresh Ridley February 13, 2014 at 4:14 pm - Reply

    This story hurt me so badly. I once assumed that Beloved was just a product of Toni´s wizardry with the pen. Some sad Black history right ´chea.

  30. Anonymous February 14, 2013 at 10:16 am - Reply

    yes gawd! thanx for the info…

  31. Anonymous February 14, 2013 at 10:15 am - Reply

    wow.. this is powerful.. thanx funkydineva!!

  32. toya February 10, 2013 at 10:50 am - Reply

    I never knew that was a true story! The school system really knows how to hide stuff. I would do the same before my child is sold into slavery!!

  33. Loving Some Dineva February 8, 2013 at 9:36 am - Reply

    Thanks for the lesson

  34. Madison Sheppard via Facebook February 7, 2013 at 5:48 pm - Reply

    wow! Thanks for sharing and this worth comment, but not weave. only 3? smdh

  35. Amber L Edmunds via Facebook February 6, 2013 at 11:16 pm - Reply


  36. The_BKC February 6, 2013 at 9:33 pm - Reply

    Thanks for posting this Dineva. I’m like a few other posters and didnt know there was a true story behind the book/movie. Our history is so profound and rich! Even with heartbreaking stories like this I am proud to be an African American Woman *fist in the air*!!!

  37. Deekie Mack February 6, 2013 at 9:21 pm - Reply

    Thanks for posting this! I never knew this was a true story. The things we endured as a people…Thank God we made it!

  38. Antonia Collins via Facebook February 6, 2013 at 8:56 pm - Reply

    Wonderful piece of history. What it must have taken for a woman to choose death- and set her children free- over a life of enslavement.

  39. EA Brown February 6, 2013 at 6:22 pm - Reply

    Thank you for sharing this story. I never knew this was a true story. I appreciate you sharing history that is not the norm like MLK, malcolm x etc.

  40. Christina Price-Elliott via Facebook February 6, 2013 at 4:13 pm - Reply

    Lean something new everyday

  41. Ms Kitty February 6, 2013 at 4:05 pm - Reply

    I didn’t know that Beloved was a true story. I saw Beloved about 15 or so years ago and I haven’t watched it since because it was so creepy. Thandie Newton’s character was scary as heck and to see that this was a true story, just wow.

  42. Natasha ELeazer via Facebook February 6, 2013 at 4:04 pm - Reply

    Thanks for sharing this story.

  43. Daniel Vasquez via Facebook February 6, 2013 at 3:50 pm - Reply

    richard danielpour wrote a full opera on the subject. GET INTO IT!

  44. Shanna Stevenson via Facebook February 6, 2013 at 2:16 pm - Reply

    *speechless*. I got to read more of it.

  45. justme February 6, 2013 at 1:58 pm - Reply

    thank you for this post.
    I’ve never heard this story.

  46. Alexis Duggan via Facebook February 6, 2013 at 12:25 pm - Reply

    Great article doll ! Didn’t kno that was a real story will b picking that book up !

  47. Esther Winston via Facebook February 6, 2013 at 11:59 am - Reply

    Thank you for that precious jewel.

  48. Janetta Hazel via Facebook February 6, 2013 at 11:54 am - Reply

    Thanks for sharing this. Shows a mother’s true love for her children.

  49. DaisyATL February 6, 2013 at 8:39 am - Reply

    Good post. We can never imagine the brutal system that this woman refused to let her children live in. Can you even believe this horrid institution reigned for over 400 years least we forget!

Leave A Response